By Jeanette DeForge
CHICOPEE – A crisis that forced five streets to be closed and about a dozen families to be evacuated from their homes for a day was caused by a man who routinely dumped gunpowder in his backyard.
Police Chief William R. Jebb revealed details about the hazardous materials incident that occurred about three weeks ago and caused chaos in a Chicopee Falls neighborhood during a recent City Council meeting.
The man died before the gunpowder was discovered. He “compiled a very large mound of gunpowder because he used to reload ammunition there and disposed of the old gunpowder in the pile,” Jebb said.
Chicopee Fire officials said they responded to a small fire in an excavator just before 4 p.m. on Sept. 23 and learned about the hazardous material found in the backyard of a multi-family home on Summer Street. Jebb said family members of the man were the ones who found the pile of gunpowder.
The next morning public safety officials from the Chicopee Police and Fire departments and the Massachusetts State Police Bomb Squad, Massachusetts Department of Fire Services and state Department of Environmental Protection descended on the neighborhood. About a dozen of the closest homes were evacuated for the day and utilities were shut off.
At the time officials revealed they had found “energetic material” outside a home but did not give any details about what the substance was or who put it there.
The agencies decided to dispose of the gunpowder with a controlled burn. Residents of High, Walnut, Pine and Summer streets and Walnut Avenue who were not evacuated were told to stay inside with doors and windows closed and told to stay away from windows while the gunpowder was burned.
No one was injured and by 10 p.m. the burn had been completed. Two homes received minor heat and water damage in the incident.
“Unfortunately no one can be held accountable because the individual who did this is no longer with us,” Jebb said.
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